What is in this article?:
- SN Special Report: Produce Is On the Move
- SN Asks: PMA's Bryan Silbermann Talks Fresh Summit
- SN Asks: Silbermann Talks Produce Traceability Initiative
"Responsibility for food safety doesn’t end at the farm gate or the packing house gate or the distribution center dock at the supply side."
— Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO, Produce Marketing Association
SN Asks: Silbermann Talks Produce Traceability Initiative
SN: On the food safety side, there’s been recent produce-linked foodborne illnesses that have been highlighting the importance of food safety along the supply chain. I was wondering if you could give our readers an update on progress with the Produce Traceability Initiative.
Silbermann: Well, the Produce Traceability Initiative is one component in better food safety practices, but certainly not the only piece. Let me just talk about traceability and then I’ll go to food safety as well because there’s two separate points I want to make.
PTI I think is reaching a tipping point right now, and I certainly believe over the next six months you’re going to see adoption by some of the major buying companies that will really drive this much further than it’s gotten so far. This has been an incredible effort by the supply side in terms of getting the five milestones taken care of, and now you’ve got the major buyers having to implement in terms of their receiving systems and also their distribution systems from DCs out to stores. And you’re going to start to see that really flow in early 2013, in the first half of next year. So, stay tuned for some big progress there.
I would draw a parallel to where we were in about 1993/4, with the rollout of standardized price look-up codes on produce. You know, we actually rolled those codes out in about 1990, and it took about three years to get to what I’d call a tipping point and then all of sudden it was everybody that was doing it in 1993 and ’94. I think 2013 will definitely be the year in which you’re going to see the PTI get a critical mass.
That’s traceability, specifically, OK. Some comments about why it’s taken longer than we’d originally thought: Certainly, the economic downturn had an impact, no question about that, because this is expensive stuff to do. I think the delay in the federal government issuing its draft regulations on FSMA, that’s also slowed things down. And I continue to be frustrated, as most of the industry is, by that delay. And then thirdly, I would say just the complexity of the technology implementation for PTI. We were very aggressive and it is complicated. So I think for all of those reasons it’s taken longer than we initially hoped, but we are where we are.
Read more: PMA Guide Supports Sharing of Produce Data
On food safety, one of the key messages that you’re going to be hearing from PMA over the next year is that responsibility for food safety doesn’t end at the farm gate or the packing house gate or the distribution center dock at the supply side. I think some of the more recent food safety outbreaks show there has to be a shared responsibility for enforcing food safety requirements from every supplier. That it doesn’t do anybody in the food industry any good if buyers take shortcuts and don’t hold all suppliers accountable for similar food safety steps. And certainly the more recent cantaloupe outbreaks have shown the validity of that comment.
So you’re going to see us really focusing on, not just the responsibility that has to go into Good Agricultural Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices when it comes to fresh cut products but also there really has to be a change in attitude that is shown by the buying community as well. And they realize that. Buyers have to hold themselves accountable just as much to ensure they are buying products from people who’ve shown they meet the same level of care across the board.
That’s really a critical piece of food safety in my opinion over the next five to 10 years.
SN: In addition to the delay in the new FSMA guidelines, Congress hasn’t passed the new Farm Bill yet and there’s talk of extending the old Farm Bill. What’s PMA’s position on how the government should proceed?
Silbermann: We’ve certainly been in favor of the position put forth by the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance on the new Farm Bill, and we’re working with … more than 60 organizations … in something called the Farm Bill Now Coalition that’s staging events, media relations activities to put some more of a spotlight on it, to get Congress to move the Farm Bill forward.
Read more: Coalition Rallies for New Farm Bill Now
I think it’s a shame that such a critical piece of public policy has been left on the back burner, especially at a time when bad weather this summer has put pressure on food prices, and it’s caused uncertainty. But that is just one piece of it. It really is critical for Congress to realize how important agriculture policy is to the strength of our economy. It’s one of the few strong pillars of the U.S. economy. Exports play a critical role and it really is so important.
It’s not just also that the Farm Bill is about farmers. That’s one of the misconceptions I think that so many people in Congress have, and so many people quite honestly in the general public have.
The Farm Bill is about a jobs bill. A food bill. A conservation bill. A research bill. A trade bill. And an energy bill.
It really affects just about every single American and the sooner we can get Congress to understand that, the better off we’re all going to be.
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